Witnessing Mumbai suffer caste violence on January 2  was a rude reminder of one of the biggest threats to India’s development goals: bigotry and intolerance. It’s a reminder for Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the dangerous company he keeps, and the price he and India could pay.

I may be among the few journalists believing the sincerity of Modi’s development agenda, but that trust has always been clouded by the threat of bigots among his followers. And the dark forces in Modi’s party are gaining alarming strength.

The threat is how much these anti-India forces — piggy-backing Modi’s recurring electoral success — would consider his second prime ministerial term as a license to turn India into a Hindu country.

These deluded factions threaten the core idea of India; the origin and home to diverse spiritual faiths. Hatred of religion is not India. Violence over choice of diet is not India. Lawmakers in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party threatening to kill people for killing cows are not real Indians.

You cannot have genuine compassion for any living being if you do not first have compassion for your fellow human beings.

Sacred cows? In the Himalayan town of Rishikesh — an important place of Hindu pilgrimage — I have often seen abandoned cows eating roadside garbage. And I have seen Western tourists compassionately feed these cows with apples. It would be better to transport these cows to the homes of politicians threatening to slaughter humans who slaughter cows.

You cannot have genuine compassion for any living being if you do not first have compassion for your fellow human beings.

These violent forces of intolerance now openly threaten to turn India into a sectarian country. It can never happen. India’s ballot box has a history of throwing out bigots and messengers of hatred. 

Demonstrators in Mumbai protest against a spate of murders targeting minorities under the pretext of protecting cows.

The ballot box beats with India’s secular heart. I grew up in a conservative Hindu family and studied in a Catholic school. Our class leader for seven successive years was Ayaz Ahmed, but I never once heard my classmates remark about his Muslim religion. Out of curiosity, I once attended the Friday Mass in school and received Holy Communion.The Salesian fathers never said, “You cannot enter the chapel, you are a Hindu.”

Likewise with diet. My religious mother, Rajeswari, is a strict vegetarian, and yet she somehow managed to cook delicious chicken, mutton, and fish dishes for the family. We did not eat beef at home, but my parents never said, “You are forbidden from eating beef.” A favorite mid-morning snack at the school canteen was keema (minced meat) buns. It was no big deal eating or not eating non-vegetarian food — until the deluded goons in Modi’s party surfaced.

sammasambuddha — the fully enlightened most compassionate of beings — refused to declare eating non-vegetarian food as immoral. Despite pressure from his evil cousin Devdatta wanting to divide the order of monks, the sammasambuddha Gotama did not make eating only vegetarian food as a compulsory precept.

No true Hindu saint ordered the killing of human beings who kill cows however sacred these beneficial, benign bovines are.

Violence injures the heart of India

I became vegetarian by choice after first arriving in Mumbai in 1992, but I eat with non-vegetarian friends. That a choice of diet becomes a pretext for violence injures the heart of India. Those using the cow to propagate violence, and bigots wanting a Hindu nation are neither Hindus or Indians.

Those who rejected the idea of India during the 1947 partition packed their bags left the country. Likewise, for bigots from any religion: leave the secular heart of India alone, or leave India.

Despite recent wins in state elections, Modi would be wise not to take his voters for granted. In 2004, his party, the BJP, was expected to easily retain power but then-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the BJP lost the general election in a shock result.

Bigots today threaten a similar shock for Modi. Either he parts company with them or India will have a new prime minister after the next general election in 2019.

Raja Murthy

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990, and formerly the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, Wisden.com and others. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.

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